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Difficult as it is to make sense of the barbaric attacks on Iraq to not try is to surrender to madness. We have to clutch at every iota of sanity we have at our disposal, and this is where history can help. To understand what’s happening in Iraq today, we have to understand American global interests, as they have been for too many hidden decades. Bush Jr. is only making naked to the world wheels that had been set in motion long before he came onto the scene. Tyrants don’t grow out of nowhere. They are products of the system that nurtures them, and allows them to grow. We in Pakistan know this well. General Zia was our worst dictator but his predecessors gifted him many invaluable tips.
Before focusing in particular on Iraq, I want to very briefly trace the rise of American imperialism in general. America’s first major imperial conquest was in the early 1900s, when American troops fought the Spanish to occupy the Philippines. An interesting aside to point out here is that in 1905, American writer Mark Twain wrote a story called ‘The War Prayer,’ in which he condemned the war. The story was considered ‘unsuitable for publication at a moment of high and patriotic feeling.’ It was not published till 1923, almost twenty years after the war and thirteen years after Twain’s death. So, contrary to the myth that America is a free country in which every civilian has the right to speak, censorship in the US has been alive and well for at least a hundred years.
After this little-discussed invasion of the Philippines, American might around the globe did not notably accelerate till after WW11. Between 1945 and now, the US has never stopped being at war with the world. For fifty-eight years, there has never been a single year in which it has not bombed and occupied another country, and in most years, it has attacked two or more countries at the same time. It attacked Korea from 1950-1953, and during the same period, also re-attacked the Philippines to stifle an indigenous leftist uprising. From 1945-49, it sent half a million troops to China, again to choke off the communists. In 1946-48, it sent troops to Italy; In 1947-49 to Greece; 1949-53 to Albania; together with the UK it attacked Iran in 1953; Guatemala also in 1953; Indonesia in 1958; Cuba 1961-62; Thailand in 1962; Laos 1962-75; Congo 1964; Peru 1965; Dominican Republic 1965-66; Vietnam 1961-73; Cambodia (1969-70); Chile (1973); the proxy war in Afghanistan (1979-88); Nicaragua (1981-90); El Salvador (1980-92); Libya (1981, 1986, 1989); Panama (1989); Grenada (1983); Persian Gulf (1984); Iraq (1991, and air strikes had been repeatedly launched till the time of the latest full-scale invasion); Serbia (1997); Afghanistan and Sudan (1998); Afghanistan (2001 to date); Iraq again.
The list is exhausting but so is the historical weight of power behind President George W. Bush. I haven’t even touched upon America’s non-military CIA-backed interference in the governance of sovereign countries all over the world, as that would only stretch this discussion even further. But the military and economic aid it gives to its ‘allies,’ especially to Israel, will naturally weave itself into the lecture.
Now to focus particularly on US interventions in Iraq. In 1963, a coup assisted by the CIA ousted Iraq’s popular leader, Abdel Karim Kassem. His crime: resisting the force of Western oil monopolies. He had said, ‘We are fighting for the industrialization of our republic and an end to our dependence on the sale of crude oil.’ This was the goal of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), an organization that Kassem had helped to form. The defiant statement gave the CIA diarrhea overnight, and the plot to assassinate him was hatched by morning. In the bloody attack that followed, thousands of Kassem’s followers were murdered along with Kassem himself. In 1968 the Baathist Party came to power. However, in 1972, the Baathists grew as defiant as Kassem had been ten years earlier, declaring that Arab oil was for the Arabs. They sought to nationalize the US-, UK-, and French- controlled Iraq Petroleum Company, made up of BP, Exxon, Mobil, Shell, and Partex. The US immediately accused it of supporting terrorism, but this time, the punishment it plotted was more covert. Taking lessons from the massive opposition to the Vietnam War at home, US President Richard Nixon did not authorize the use of direct military action. Instead, the plot was to weaken Iraq by arming and training the Kurds. The US-planted Shah of Iran was a key ally of this hidden agenda; he was the tunnel through which Americans provided arms to the Kurds. Interestingly, many of President Richard Nixon’s advisors were the same as they are today, thirty years later, with Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski prominent among them.. Assistance to the Kurds had as little then to do with human rights as it does today, as Kurdish empowerment would obviously weaken America’s ability to exploit them. In fact, Kissinger is known to have told an aide: ‘Covert operations should not be confused with missionary work.’ Incidentally, this is the same Kissinger who once asked rhetorically, ‘Why should the Arabs have all the oil?’ and who would, during the Iran-Iraq War declare, ‘I hope they kill each other’ and ‘Too bad they both can’t lose.’ For his love of humanity, he was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1973, along with a North Vietnamese negotiator who is said to have refused the prize in Kissinger’s company. That’s just an aside I thought might interest you. Going back to the covert operations being deployed to undermine Iraq, these might have continued unobstructed till a full-fledged civil war between Kurdish nationalists and Iraqis broke out if it weren’t for the Iranian Revolution. The Shah, America’s second-best collaborator in the Middle East (after Israel), was history. Iran became a bigger threat.
Suddenly, the same Iraq that the US had been using the Kurds to weaken was now supplied with weapons to attack Iran. US President Jimmy Carter, still considered a dove at home (if anyone still has any doubts that the Nobel Peace Prize has as little to do with peace as the UN has to do with human rights, she has only to consider Carter’s awarding of the prize — it is as ridiculous as Kissinger’s thirty years earlier), introduced a new intervention strategy called the Carter Doctrine, which stated that ‘any challenge to US access to the Middle East oil (can be met with) military force.’ American companies directly and indirectly (that is, through America’s other client states Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) sold billions of dollars worth of armament to Iraq, some of it on credit, while purchasing increased amounts of Iraqi oil at greatly reduced rates. At the same time, a task force was created to implement Carter’s strategy. However, Iran and Iraq so successfully destroyed each other for eight years that the task force was never needed. The subsequent US leader, President Ronald Reagan and his Vice President George H. Bush played their part as well. Reagan authorized the CIA to go to Baghdad to ‘advise the military’ (read arm and train) of the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. We now know that the CIA was simultaneously ‘advising the military’ of Iran.
It has been said many times before but it cannot be said enough: Saddam Hussein is America’s man. They were making him at about the same time as they were making Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. The chemical weapons that Hussein is accused of having were sold to him by the current Vice President Dick Cheney, when he was CEO of the chemical company Halliburton. They sold it to him and he used it on the Kurds the following year. The same Kurds, mind you, that were supposedly being liberated in the 70s, in the 90s during the first Gulf War, and now, in 2003 during the ‘shock and awe’ fireworks display of the second Gulf War. The same Kurds that we’ve been told are dancing in their streets at the same time that, a few hundred miles away, Afghan women are supposedly stripping off their veils like newly-discovered Kim Bassingers. If the esteemed president and vice president of the United States are so concerned about weapons of mass destruction, why on earth do they keep selling them to murderous rulers of the impoverished and disenfranchised Third World? If the US so concerned about weapons of mass destruction, why does it keep selling them to the only nuclear power in the Middle East: Israel?
No UN nuclear arms inspectors have ever been allowed to enter Israel. The arms inspectors who were in Iraq in the 90s had long before declared that Iraq had no nuclear weapons. It is Israel that has weaponry that can only be matched by one other nation: the United States, which furnishes it with over 3 billion dollars in aid every year. So the claim that this state is a lamb surrounded by lions is absolutely facetious. It has attacked more of its neighbors since its creation in 1948 (Egypt twice, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, also twice, and Iraq) than any other country in the Middle East and, it should be added, than it itself has been attacked. Israel is the only country in the world to have never declared its borders, thus allowing itself the absolute right to enter Palestinian Territories whenever it wants, and then withdrawing by a few inches in order to extract more political leverage from the crushed Palestinians. This strategy has been repeated so ruthlessly, and in violation of so many international laws, that it is virtually impossible to measure exactly where the border lies on any given day. The latest uprising in the territories has resulted in over a thousand Palestinian deaths, many of them children. In return, Bush calls Sharon a man desiring of peace. These two could well be the contenders of this year’s Noble Peace Prize.
It is more than obvious that the United States and its Liberation Army care nothing about the disarmament of destructive weapons, about human rights, or about any international law. If they did, they would not have renounced the non-nuclear proliferation treaty, or voted against the protocol allowing implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention, or rejected the treaty banning land mines, so that tens of thousands of innocent civilians around the world, mostly children, do not have to live their lives without legs, arms, and eyes. New mines have again been laid by the US in Afghanistan a country that had already been riddled with more mines per square inch than any other country in the world. America has vetoed the passing of virtually every international attempt to reduce instances of war, and to protect the environment. As I have said already, for the last fifty-eight years it itself has never stopped being at war with the world. Its economy thrives on war.
Is then, the perpetuation of the military-industrial complex the main reason for waging the current war? Remember that Iraq has 112 billion barrels of reserves. Ajmal Kamal recently quoted an article in Hydrogen Economy, in which Jeremy Rifkin calculates the number of years that world oil reserves would last at current rates of consumption and extraction, and came up with these figures: In the US and Norway, 10 years. In Canada even less, only 8. But in Iran 53 years; Saudi Arabia 55; the United Arab Emirates 75; Kuwait 116. In Iraq, it is 526 years. So the prospect of grabbing hold of the most untapped oil reserves in the world, and stirring up animosity in the region so rival groups become even more enthusiastic arms customers, must be part of the appeal of this war. It could be — your guess is as good as mine. The second theory — that the war is a way to show the world who’s boss is also believable. Certainly the message ‘If you don’t comply, we’ll bomb you,’ has been heard loudly enough in Pakistan, with many people fearing that Pakistan, which has the world’s most unpopular known nuclear weapons, after perhaps, North Korea, is next in line. Personally I don’t believe an attack on us is imminent. The last twelve years of high-tech warfare have shown that the US Government enjoys killing those who are virtually already dead Afghanistan was all but a graveyard before October 2001 when the bombing there began, and Iraq has been living under the weight of economic sanctions that have killed 600, 000 Iraqi children alone, and those children that survive are so malnourished that future generations will be crippled for many years to come. However, even if an attack on us, or on another country, is not likely to happen soon, the pressure to do whatever Big Brother dictates is very strong. This absolute power is obviously just as thrilling for the US Government as an infinitesimal number of green bills, nukes, and cars.
The third theory is one that’s been circulating in the press much less but I’ll mention it briefly and this is that there is a plan to move the three million Palestinians who are trapped in occupied West Bank and Gaza to the lonesome desert of Iraq, thus allowing the Jewish homeland to be free, once and for all, of Arabs. This is thin. Since the Israeli army has never been held accountable to any world court, it could easily destroy the Palestinians on their own soil, as it has been doing quite successfully since 1948. But since this would amount to genocide of even greater proportions than the one Israel is currently carrying out, perhaps the idea of simply smuggling out the populace is favorable. It might be a theory to keep visible in our rear-view mirrors. No one would have thought that a people who, in 1948, controlled only 6% of the land would today control 80%. A further 20% might not be that unlikely.
What will be the aftermath of the war? If we are to look at the result of Gulf War 1, and that of the war in Afghanistan, the picture is unbearably grim: human rights groups like RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) have long been saying that during its first rule from 1992-96, the Northern Alliance committed as horrendous crimes against humanity, particularly against women, as the Taliban. It has been at it again. Contrary to what the US media reports, the Afghans are even more impoverished, frightened, and helpless as they were before October 2001, when Americans proceeded to kill more people than died on September 11 and called it freedom. America has abandoned the so-called free, just as it did after it trained Afghans, Pakistanis and Arabs on Afghan soil to fight the Soviets. The tens of thousands of refugees hunched in tents along our common border, or in Pakistan, have not gone home. They know it isn’t safe to do so. There are absolutely no signs of the infrastructure the US vowed to create. Except for the occasional ‘Osama is alive’ or ‘No, he isn’t alive’ the country appears to have completely fallen off America’s political map, even as it remains a military target. As a result, how many enraged mini-Osama’s are being bred across the border, or right here in Pakistan, even as we speak?
After Gulf War 1, it is estimated that around 250, 000 Iraqis died as a result of 110, 000 aerial sorties that dropped 88,000 tons of explosives. Contrary to what the government said, these were not target bombings and no effort was made to not kill civilians. In The Fire This Time, Ramsey Clark estimates that around 93% of the bombs fell in civilian areas. The country was without power for the duration of the bombing, and as many roads were also destroyed, people were limited in their ability to flee. Water contamination remained a problem even when the current war began. We were are not being shown footage of human destruction on TV, but we have been told that the current war is, and will continue to be, on an even larger scale. It is virtually impossible to imagine a situation even worse than the one the Iraqi people had been living in before March 19th.
So, to come to my last point, if we consider the rise of American imperialism in general, and, in particular, in the Middle East, and if we weigh all the possible reasons for the current crisis, what choices do we ordinary people have left to counterbalance the looming force?
Our only choice really is to resist imperialism, in will and in action. Just yesterday, the Iraqi Vice President issued a statement dismissing the Arab League’s criticism of American force, asking, ‘Why do you condemn aggression on the one hand, and on the other hand, continue to sell oil to the aggressor? Why do you open your airspace and seaports and military bases to the invaders?’ It’s an important question. The complicity of the Arab states over the years is shameful and sickening, and this needs to be said every time we condemn the war. The notion that there is such a thing as the Muslim Ummah or Brotherhood has gone from being a bad joke to a nightmare that we somehow have to wake up from. The massive demonstrations world-wide show that people in the West are waking up. Even Americans, who have long been either supremely indifferent to what their government does outside its own borders, or supremely confident that whatever their government does to ‘others’ is right, are at last angry. I personally know of Americans who have never questioned US foreign policy who are beginning to do so now.
This is also the first time since the end of the Cold War that many other governments, including Security Council members France and Russia, are challenging US hegemony — another hopeful sign in an otherwise overwhelmingly dark horizon. France’s strong words of opposition to the US, along with those of major religious authorities like the Pope should encourage smaller, weaker countries to stand their ground and resist US hegemony. We must peacefully fight for an immediate stop to the attacks on Iraq, followed by an immediate end to the economic sanctions, followed by the trying of the US and UK Governments, in a world court, for repeatedly violating human rights.
It is important not to interpret this war as a war on Islam. To do so is to play straight into the hands of Bush. The more Muslim militants there are, the more he can say to his people, ‘Look, I told you they’re out there. I told you we’re not safe. I told you we have to disarm them, and liberate them.’ No doubt Blair and Aznar will happily join in the chorus. The culprits are the US and UK Governments, not ordinary Americans, not ordinary British. Not Christians, Hindus, or Jews. The US was at war with Latin America for decades, and its people are Christian. It was not a war against Christianity. Nor was it a war against Buddhism when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed. Militancy is one of two outcomes of interpreting this as a religious ‘crusade.’ Another is just the opposite: passivity. It is to grow more fatalistic, and more smug in the knowledge that the afterlife will be better than this one. We have to make this one worth living for.
At the start of Gulf War 1, George H. Bush was known to have said, ‘Whatever we say goes.’ It is up to us to tell his son, ‘You’re wrong. What America says does not go.’
UZMA ASLAM KHAN is is the author of TRESPASSING to be published as the lead title from Flamingo in June this year. It will also be published by Penguin India, Alfaguara Spain, Neri Pozza Italy, Editions Philippe Picquier France; Van Gennep Holland, Ordfront Sweden, Ambar Portugal, Psichogios Greece. Penguin India published her first novel THE STORY OF NOBLE ROT in 2001. She grew up in Karachi, and was educated there and, at university level, in the USA. She has taught English literature and language in the US, Morocco and Pakistan. Currently she lives in Lahore. She can be reached at: Khan@counterpunch.org